Friday, Sept 26 | 2:45-4:30 pm

FILM | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

Somewhere Over the Postmodern Rainbow: Exploratory Cinematic Research and the Polysemy of Scriptural Narratives

Chris Morrissey

Marshall McLuhan insisted that our global technological environment requires a special kind of response from artists in order to enhance our perception of technology’s current planetary domination: “Art as an anti-environment is an indispensable means of perception, for environments, as such, are imperceptible. Their power to impose their ground rules on our perceptual life is so complete that there is no scope for dialogue or interface. Hence the need for art or anti-environments.” (McLuhan Unbound #20: 3–4) Scriptural narrative may be seen as a prototype of artistic creation furnishing an imaginative anti-environment, which in turn stimulates artistic re-creations and re-conceptions. Using examples from Darren Aronofsky’s recent Noah, this paper revisits Terry J. Prewitt’s structural analysis of Genesis in The Elusive Covenant (1990) by further pursuing chiastic structure in terms of an analytical semiotic model suggested by Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad. First, a theoretical outline is given as McLuhan’s tetrad is successively related to Aristotle’s four causes, to Peirce’s sign classes, to Thomas Sebeok and Marcel Danesi’s modeling systems theory, and to the multiple senses of scripture according to Thomas Aquinas. Then, a practical application showing the utility of this tetrad for semiotic theory takes the form of a study of the action of signs in Genesis texts. This application also serves to further illustrate the powerful insight of Prewitt (1990: 126) that “interpretation is not simply a matter of structure but is instead that activity wherein we allow our minds to move beyond structure to implication, and from implication to a total experience.” In conclusion, this paper considers how, in his cinematic explorations, Aronofsky’s planetary vision is a form of research into McLuhan’s thesis that “the planet has become an anti-environment, an art form, an extension of consciousness, yielding new perception of the new man-made environment” (McLuhan Unbound #20: 10).


Christopher S. Morrissey is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic liberal arts college at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, where he also teaches courses in the Latin language and in Greek and Roman history. He studied Greek and Latin at the University of British Columbia and has taught courses in these languages and in other classical subjects at Simon Fraser University. His academic studies embrace philosophical theology, traditional metaphysics, perennial philosophy, sophia perennis, sophiology, Trinitarian non-dualism, and ancient cosmology. Morrissey’s translation of Hesiod’s poetry, Theogony and Works and Days, is available from Talonbooks.

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The Arts of War: Reconsidering Conflict Through Interdisciplinary Artistic Collaboration

John MacInnis

CORE 160: Introduction to the Arts is required as part of the core curriculum at Dordt College and is team taught every semester by four professors who each address a different art form: Music, Theatre, Film, and Visual Art. Semesters are divided in half, and students select two art forms for special attention. Additionally, all students meet in two mass sections in which the team of professors address topics spanning all the arts. These mass sections are an opportunity to demonstrate for students that interdisciplinary collaboration around a given topic often  produces remarkable insight.

Last year, in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the US led invasion of Iraq, our team of arts professors took up the topic of war. Acknowledging that most of our students had effectively come of age continually seeing images and hearing news connected to war in the Middle East, we asked if the arts could help them develop more nuanced perspectives and challenge accepted understandings.

Dedicating four mass sessions to this topic, we began with Jason Bullard’s quasi-religious prints of military heroes aside paintings by Steve Mumford, who traveled with the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit. We then asked students what art works by Hanaa Malallah, Malina Suliman, and Wafaa Bilal could teach us about the cost of war from the perspective of those who try to live with the threat of violence. We continued this discussion of perspective by considering Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a realistic video game which situates the player in a Middle Eastern conflict, and concluded with Jim Sheridan’s 2009 film Brothers.

My presentation summarizes these mass meetings of CORE 160 in 2013 (our collaborative process in planning them, topics covered, and student responses) as well as the class CORE 160 itself as a productive venue for interdisciplinary artistic research.


John MacInnis is Assistant Professor of Music History and Theory at Dordt College. His graduate studies in Musicology were at Florida State University. Though a native of Nova Scotia, John now lives in Iowa with his wife, Vicky, and children, Saydie and Alistair.

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Nationalism in Music Research: Archetypes in Cinema Studies

Christopher Booth

Though the history of cinema may be traced back to various dramatic forms including opera, stage plays, and dance, the art form is almost entirely a 20th/21st-century idiom. Having initially developed in Europe and North America, film exhibits features of nationality simply through language and other cultural determinants. Nationalism, an attitude already well established within the fine arts by the twentieth century, is thus an option for any filmmaker,

especially in films about war. In this paper, I describe the process by which directors have musically engaged with nationalism in recent films set during WWII. In each case, evidence regarding nationalistic qualities is provided by the auteur's choice of preexisting music to accompany the filmic narrative. The results are complex; some filmmakers are able to provide a fitting aesthetic to coincide with various hermeneutic qualities of a film, while others' attempts are far less successful. In special cases, research into preexisting music provides a new innovation: meaning constructed around a nationalist framework acts as commentary on the very concept of nationalism itself.

I begin by briefly describing the effects of musical aesthetics in WWII films by using well-known examples from recent blockbusters; my goal here is to demonstrate the efficacy of preexisting music to communicate the ostensibly desired aesthetic of both image and narrative. I then discuss the filmmaker’s role as sociopolitical commentator, and I present the neologism "musical counternationalism," with which I describe how a filmmaker can endorse a war

opponent, as seen in Peckinpah's Cross of Iron and Malick's The Thin Red Line.  Finally, I examine transnational dimensions of Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which engages postmodern history through paradox and fragmentation. In each film, preexisting music provides complementary material that enhances the scope of meaning and thus the role of interdisciplinary research.


Christopher Booth is currently pursuing a PhD in Musicology at the Catholic University of America, having completed a MM in Music Theory from SUNY Potsdam and a BS in Piano Performance from Roberts Wesleyan College. Though his primary research interests are film and opera studies, his most recent publication is a book chapter on the hermeneutics of Jewish sound in Shostakovich chamber music. He has presented papers at the AMS Capital and Southeast chapters, as well as the University of Arizona and the University of Birmingham in the UK. He lives in Suffolk, Virginia with his wife and two daughters.

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